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'evaluating Utilitarianism' What Are The Main Features Of Utilitarianism As An Ethical Theory? Examine And Consider Criticisms That Have Been Made Against Utilitarianism

2266 words - 10 pages

What are the main features of Utilitarianism as an ethical theory? (10 marks)Examine and consider criticisms that have been made against Utilitarianism. (10 marks)Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that pivots around the belief that morality should be judged by consequence and the way in which an action can be deemed moral or immoral, depends upon the number to which it brings the greatest happiness. A decision can be defined as ethically correct under the theory of Utilitarianism if the moral choice provides the 'greatest good for the greatest number of people', proving that at the core of Utilitarianism are the ideals of pleasure and consequence. Although Utilitarianism provides a useful, ...view middle of the document...

Bentham stuck to the policy, that in every circumstance, the right course of action can be determined by what outcome would provide the greatest pleasure for the most people, for example, the building of a hospital would benefit a community much more than the building of an art gallery.Bentham devised The Principle of Utility, claiming that an action can be determined right or wrong by its 'utility', or usefulness. The usefulness of an action refers to the amount of pleasure or happiness is caused by it. In order to ensure that the right course of action is taken, where the greatest good results for the most number of people, Bentham introduced a procedure to estimate the utility of an action. The idea that he proposed is recognised as the Hedonic Calculus, whereby seven points can be referred to so to determine an action's value. When making an ethical decision, Bentham felt it obligatory to weigh up the possible outcomes of one's actions in terms of the duration, likelihood, proximity, productivity and the number of people that will be affected by it. The Hedonic Calculus allows contemplation over an action dependent on its consequences.The theory of Utilitarianism is recognised as a universal theory, meaning that it can be applied to literally every situation. It addition to this, Utilitarianism is egalitarian, meaning that it does not consider one person's definition of pleasure to be of a higher state than another, in other words, it accepts all forms of pleasure to be of an equal status.Although Mill upheld the Utilitarian belief that the welfare of an individual was of greatest importance and affirmed the utility principle, he became troubled over the Utilitarian theory being an egalitarian one. He could see that if all forms of pleasure were seen as equal then it would be difficult to differentiate the pleasure of from eating a chocolate bar, compared to that of the pleasure of having children and watching them grow up. He also realised that circumstances could occur where sadism or masochism could be determined as pleasurable, and therefore a majority could enforce this upon a minority. The most recognised example of this is of the 'Sadistic Guards' scenario, where a group of prison guards enjoy torturing a prisoner. Due to the egalitarian nature of Utilitarianism, certain forms of pleasure can be justified by the theory if they were carried out on the majority by the minority. Bentham's version of Utilitarianism would morally accept this situation, as the result would still be the greatest good for the greatest number, where sadism would be defined as pleasurable, as the guards are gaining pleasure from torturing the single man.Contrary to Bentham's original principle of Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill believed that pleasure should be qualitative and not quantitative and also that pleasures could be split into higher and lower order pleasures. Mill saw higher order pleasure as that gained when reading literature or going to the opera,...

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